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Album review: Kevin Gates, ‘Islah’

As he puts it in “Ain’t Too Bad,” the quote that pretty much sums up Kevin Gates is this: “I ain’t too hard to tell you how I feel.” The Lousiana rapper’s vulnerability is as much a stamp of his realness (and marketability) as those nine shots were to 50 Cent — and, as with 50’s debut, “Islah” translates Gates’s raw mixtape aesthetic into a more versatile, crowd-pleasing major-label package. The album doesn’t shy from its broad ambitions, offering a glossy club jam (“Kno One”) and an after-hours groove (“One Thing”), tracks that require Gates to ease back his flow and craft a knockout hook to carry the song, something he also does on the anthemic “2 Phones.” But as a lyricist, Gates is closer to Ghostface Killah or Beanie Sigel; when he picks apart a shattered relationship on “Pride” or attempts to explain his onstage assault of an 18-year-old concertgoer on “The Truth” — his voice straining with emotion and urgency, trembling somewhere between tears and rage — it’s utterly captivating.

Martín Caballero

Essential “Pride”

Martín Caballero can be reached at caballeroglobe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @_el_caballero.
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